Renault Megane E-Tech review: smart interior can't compensate for sub-par range
It wasn’t going to happen. As the journey wound on, it became clear I simply wasn’t going to get home without having to top up the battery.
This was a surprise, because the round trip I was undertaking is just over 170 miles. The Renault Megane E-Tech I was driving was supposed to travel 280 miles, according to the official figures, although we all know those are hokum thanks to the way the test flatters EVs.
Better to rely on our Telegraph rule of thumb of 70 to 80 per cent of that figure – and to aim at the bottom of this range if the ambient temperature is only just above zero. That would give 196 miles; indeed, after preconditioning the car (warming it up before unplugging), it reckoned it had 188 available, which seemed about right. It would be tight, in other words, but I’d make it. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
Fun to drive
Parlous real-world range
Unsettled ride quality
Low roofline can make access tricky
Going the distance?
So what exactly did I manage to squeeze out of the Megane E-Tech? After the first, 86-mile leg of the journey, I’d managed to use 54 per cent of the battery at a rate, according to the car, of only 2.6 miles per kilowatt hour (versus an official figure of 3.9). Extrapolating, that would mean 159 miles to zero – in other words, in these conditions our test Megane was managing 57 per cent of the car’s official range. Eek.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that this experience is not unique to the Megane. Andrew English had a similar story to tell when he tested the Kia EV6 in equally brisk conditions. But not all electric cars are this way; when we ran an Audi e-tron Sportback during the winter of 2020/21, it did shed some of its range when the mercury plummeted – but only to the point of reducing the range by about 10-15 miles versus its usual.
Mark the Megane down, then, as one of those electric cars that’s particularly susceptible to cold snaps, although we can only really speculate why; perhaps it’s to do with the greater surface area of Renault’s novel battery pack, which is longer, wider and flatter than the norm, enabling it to lower the ride height to make the new Megane more like a conventional car.
It could also be that our test car wasn’t equipped with a heat pump, which would make heating it – and, crucially, its battery – much more efficient, and a less significant drain on the battery’s charge in such conditions. In fact, you can’t buy a Megane with a heat pump in the UK yet, despite it being a feature much-vaunted at the car’s launch last year; while it’s rumoured that forthcoming version of the Megane will have one, nothing is yet set in stone.
Battery and specifications
There’s only one version of this battery available, rated at 60kWh of usable capacity; we don’t get the smaller 40kWh version offered in Europe. Currently, you can specify a Megane in three versions, with the cheapest Equilibre at £36,995, which means it offers more range for the same money as a Volkswagen ID.3. It’ll charge slightly more quickly, too; at 130kW (vs the ID.3’s 125kW), the Megane will get from 20 to 80 per cent charge in 28 minutes, to the VW’s 31.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a reversing camera, heated seats, a heated steering wheel and LED headlights; bumping up to the Techno version gains you larger alloy wheels, adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control and ambient lighting. A First Edition version adds bronze accents on the bodywork, as well as a Harman Kardon sound system and an around-view camera.
Giving the Megane a particularly slim battery is a cunning strategy, because it lowers the centre of gravity, which pays dividends in terms of the car’s dynamics. But there is an issue; this quest for lowness means that the roofline is awfully close to the seats, which have been mounted quite high – presumably to deliver the raised driving position so many SUV buyers seek – which means there’s a high risk of bashing your head on the door frame as you enter.
Once you’re in, though, the Megane is tremendous – all tactile, high-quality materials, with a huge, airy space between driver and front passenger. The angular styling of the dashboard, with its slim, vertical air vents, calls to mind that of the Renault 21 (1986-1994) – though it’s hard to determine whether this is intentional or not.
The 21 could be specified with a cutting-edge digital dashboard in its day, and the Megane feels pretty high-tech too, with a clear, crisp virtual dial display and a large, easy-to-reach infotainment screen.
Interestingly, this is powered by new software that’s Android-based, and which has been developed in conjunction with Korean tech giant LG. Frankly, manufacturers should have been doing this sort of thing from the word go with touchscreens – i.e. reskinning software from tech companies that know how to do it far better – and it’s paid dividends here, because the Megane’s screen is easy and intuitive to find your way around.
Below the screen is a row of lovely flip switches that allow you to adjust most of the climate control functions.Below these there’s a neat little shelf into which you can lace your phone and charge it wirelessly (although this proved somewhat temperamental in our test car).
The plus side of the high seating, of course, is a very good view out over the bonnet; in the back seats, it also means a decent amount of legroom, while if you’ve a small person to strap into their seat it’s easy to do so because you don’t have to lean in so far.
Also impressive is the boot; where most EVs suffer from a high floor, Renault has packaged the Megane brilliantly to provide a deep boot with a respectable volume of 440 litres with the load cover in place. That might not quite match the Kia Niro EV, but it betters the Volkswagen ID.3 and Nissan Leaf by quite some margin.
On the road
There has been a very deliberate choice in the set-up of the new Megane’s road manners, which is to favour involvement over comfort. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; given quite a few EVs are rather vapid to drive, it’s nice to come across one that feels this driver-focussed.
There’s a caveat to our driving impressions, which is that, as you might already have guessed given the range issues, we had our Megane test car during the cold snap just before Christmas.
Given the state of the roads, it would have been foolish to push the car too hard, so we can’t tell you much about the Megane’s grip levels or traction, simply because there wasn’t much of either.
But at a modest pace the Megane feels balanced, involving and agile. There’s nuance in the way the centre of gravity shifts around the chassis in response to accelerator adjustments that’s in stark contrast to the usual one-dimensional feel of large, heavy EVs, along with a lightness and deftness to the steering that makes the Megane satisfying on a sinuous road.
The electric motor won’t surge and tear your face off like some other EVs, which is no bad thing; there’s still more than enough shove for day-to-day needs or to sprint up a short slip road. And the response to the accelerator pedal is sensible; there’s none of the initial sharpness you get in some EVs, which means the Megane is very easy to drive smoothly.
There’s a payoff to the delightful handling, though, which is that the Megane feels ruffled on all but the smoothest surfaces. It’s not exactly that the suspension is firm per se; rather, it struggles to settle, with a fussy response to smaller blemishes that means you can feel them almost constantly. Combine this with a bit of rather wooden side-to-side head toss, and it isn’t a car that’s entirely relaxing to drive.
It’s hard to say for sure, but blame may lay with the 20-inch wheels fitted to the Techno model we tested and their narrow-sidewalled tyres. When we drove early pre-production examples last year on 19-inch wheels, the problem was not so clearly apparent; perhaps, therefore, the answer is to plump for the Equilibre, whose 18-inch wheels and higher-profile tyres might better take the sting out of bumps.
The Telegraph verdict
Even so equipped, though, you’d still have to live with a range that is, in cold conditions at least, decidedly sub-par. And that makes it difficult to award more than three stars.
Which is a shame, because such a score belies the delightful way it drives, the beautifully put together interior, the sizeable boot and the usability of its controls.
But at the end of the day, a car’s core purpose is to get you to where you need to go. And had you spent £40,000-odd on this car and it struggled to do that – or more accurately, struggled to get you anywhere near as far as its maker promises – then the chances are that no amount of smart interior plastics or sweetly tuned steering would save it from your wrath.
On test: Renault Megane E-Tech EV60 Techno
Body style: five-door SUV
On sale: now
How much? £39,495 on the road (range from £36,995)
How fast? 99mph, 0-62mph in 7.5sec
How economical? 3.9mpkWh (WLTP Combined)
Engine & gearbox: N/A
Electric powertrain: AC synchronous motor with 60kWh (usable) battery, 135kW on-board charger, Type 2/CCS charging socket
Electric range: 280 miles (WLTP Combined)
Maximum power/torque: 217bhp/221lb ft
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (tailpipe), 37g/km (well-to-wheel)
Warranty: five years / 100,000 miles (unlimited mileage in first two years)
Spare wheel as standard: no (not available)
Volkswagen ID.3 58kWh Pro Performance Life
201bhp, 265 miles, £36,990 on the road
This is currently the only version of the ID.3 you can buy due to VW’s ongoing production issues; it’s cheaper than the Megane, but that’s only because it has much less equipment. It’s also less powerful and won’t go as far on a charge – officially, anyway – and the Megane’s smart interior makes the ID.3’s painfully built-down-to-a-price effort look a bit naff.
Kia Niro EV 3 with Heat Pump
201bhp, 285 miles, £40,445 on the road
In our experience the Niro is usually much better at getting close to its official range figures than most of its rivals – which will only improve if you pay an extra £900 to specify a heat pump. True, the interior isn’t quite as upmarket, and the Niro is bland to drive, but it’s as roomy as the Megane and the boot is even larger.
Vauxhall Astra Electric GS Line
156bhp, 258 miles, £37,000 on the road (est)
It’s down on power and on range versus the Megane, but the upcoming Astra’s more wind-cheating profile and lighter battery should make it more efficient and, therefore, cheaper to run. Expect the same easy-to-use, smartly finished interior we’ve come to know and love in the petrol and diesel Astra, although space in the back seats and boot probably won’t be as generous as you’ll find in the Megane.